There is one fight that unites everyone – halting pub closures, which are sadly on the rise again. But this is a fight with many competing groups, and at times it all feels a bit...fake news.
The latest campaign from Britain's Beer Alliance – the group of brewers behind 'There's a Beer for That' – focuses on beer duty cuts as a vehicle to save pubs. Of course, taxation is a big issue, but is such single issue campaigning really working for the trade?
The issue is so complicated with so many factors that to call out a single issue as 'the one' that drives pub closure is...well...inaccurate at best. Staff training, VAT, other taxation issues, the decline of the high street, casual dining competition, planning law, utility prices, access to finance, pubco relationships, the tie, the smoking ban – the list goes on and on.
So how to stay positive about pubs against all these massive pressures and fragmented campaigns?
Here's an example I often go to when discussing it.
A couple of years ago, I visited an old community local that was taking less than a few hundred quid a week. It was continuously described by both the pubco and even the licensee as non-viable. It was written off as a dead pub.
Then a couple of new publicans came in on a tenancy at will. They delivered four, and then five, figure sums within months of taking over. How? They used to work in IT and had no pub experience at all. But they were magnificent, truly brilliant business managers. They researched the pub trade extensively, and how to get a good food offer with decent margin, as well as asking the locals exactly what they wanted from a pub – and, crucially, why they had stopped going.
Theses publicans turned around the pub with the same business rates value, utility costs, beer prices, wine and spirit prices, and food prices as the previous licensee.
I'm not saying we shouldn't campaign – we clearly need to. The rates hike for some businesses has been devastating and it does need addressing. I'm just saying it's not a panacea for pubs shutting – nor is beer duty or any of the other single issue campaigns. All businesses across the UK have tax and employment issues.
But back to those community local publicans. They saved a pub from closure. Neither of them had ever campaigned to save a local in their lives. But they did exactly that, within the pub itself. They have since bought two more pubs. Yes, they work 18 to 20 hour days and are exhausted. But they are happy because they saved the only pub in the village. They are the true pub heroes.
Sometimes we forget that pubs are businesses and just need outstanding businesspeople. Let's campaign for those kind of publicans - they will be the ones keeping pub doors open.